Following the 2021 General Election, the Isle of Man Government’s Crown and Elections team is reviewing the election process so that they can implement any necessary improvements for the future. My submission is reproduced below with just minor formatting changes for publishing on the web.
Dear Crown and Elections Team,
Here is my submission to your election review. Feel free to share it with any other organisations/people/stakeholders/public as you see fit. I will publish this on my website at michaeljosem.com as well.
REGULATION 11 – DISCLOSURE OF RELEVANT INTEREST
This regulation requires that candidates disclose relevant interests. The obvious use for such a declaration of relevant interests is so that voters can evaluate any relevant interests of the candidates when considering how to vote. Thus, it is absurd that the relevant interests are kept secret by the Isle of Man Government, and not published. It is absurd that to my knowledge, of the 65 candidates for the general election, I was the only candidate in the nation to transparently publish the relevant interests and make such a declaration publicly accessible online. This is reflective of a poor culture of secrecy and unprofessionalism of other election candidates on the Isle of Man, and should be fixed. Although outside the scope of this specific review, it is absurd that Tynwald actively removed the previous declarations from public view on their website of pre-existing MHKs for the course of the official election campaign period.
All disclosures should be immediately published when they are made. In an ideal world, candidates would have high standards of professionalism and publish such disclosures proactively, but as the general election demonstrated, other candidates failed to do this. Thus, it seems appropriate for the Government to publish all declarations and forms received to improve the transparency of the election process. They should be published in real-time.
ACT – SECTIONS 72 AND 74 – FAILURE TO DISCLOSE CANDIDATE DECLARATIONS
Each candidate in the general election was required to make disclosures to the Government of expenses and donations received under Sections 72 and 74 of the Elections Act.
The obvious use for such a declaration of donations is so that voters can evaluate the donors of the candidates when considering how to vote. Thus, such declarations should be made easily and publicly available to voters. It is absurd that to my knowledge, of the 65 candidates for the general election, I was the only candidate in the nation to transparently publish all donations that I received, and the expenses that I incurred, and make such declarations publicly accessible online. This is reflective of a poor culture of secrecy and unprofessionalism of other election candidates on the Isle of Man, and should be fixed.
Further, the Act is somewhat unclear about donations that are received after the donation declaration date – I received such donations, and although I do not think that there was a legal requirement to disclose such donations, I declared them anyway. Instead of having fixed deadlines, candidates should be required to disclose relevant donations when/as they arise (within a certain period after the donations have been received, such as within a certain number of days after the end of each week or month).
All disclosures should be published when they are made. In an ideal world, candidates would have high standards of professionalism and publish such disclosures proactively, but as the general election demonstrated, other candidates failed to do this. Thus, it seems appropriate for the Government to publish online all declarations and forms received to improve the transparency of the election process.
ANONYMOUS ONLINE ADVERTISING
Section 97 of the Elections (Keys and Local Authorities) Act 2020 stipulates in part:
A person must not —
(a) print or publish, or cause to be printed or published, any bill, placard or poster having reference to an election, or any printed document distributed for the purpose of promoting or procuring,
or discouraging or preventing, the election of a candidate;
(b) post or cause to be posted any such bill, placard or poster; or
(c) distribute or cause to be distributed any document for the said purpose, unless the bill, placard, poster or document bears upon its face the name and address of the publisher.
In this section —
“distribute” includes distributing by electronic means;
“print” includes any process for multiplying copies of a document, other than copying it by hand;
“publish” includes publishing by electronic means.Section 97 of the Elections (Keys and Local Authorities) Act 2020
Throughout the 2021 General Election, some number of unidentified person(s) published ran anonymous online advertising campaigns to affect the election. This included paid online advertising targeted at Manx voters, which were advertisements with reference to the election and self-evidently appeared to be for the purpose of discouraging the election of a candidate. This, to me, seemed to me like a self-evident breach of Section 97 of the Elections Act. They used anonymous Facebook pages to spread misinformation, and used paid advertising to anonymously promote their misinformation.
However, when I reported this to the relevant authorities, the Isle of Man Police and Attorney-General’s office declined to take action. I can understand that IOM Police or the A-G’s office might not want to pursue every lunatic who posts anonymously on the internet. But the deliberate effort to launch a paid digital advertising campaign represents a substantial effort to interfere in the Isle of Man General Election. This isn’t just a case of a clown posting dumb things on Manx Forums, but rather, represented an active and concerted efforts to disrupt the Isle of Man’s 2021 General Election by using paid digital advertising.
Section 97 of the Act should be amended to prohibit anonymous online advertising, just as it already prohibits anonymous physical advertising on brochures.
One of two options are possible here: a) Ideally, the Isle of Man Government would assert that online advertising which was substantially published in the Isle of Man was subject to Manx law) If the Isle of Man Government continues with its position that online services operating from abroad, but serving Manx customers, are not ordinarily subject to Manx law, the Isle of Man Government might need to assert extraterritorial powers here. Obviously, many online digital advertising services operate globally, and into the Isle of Man from abroad, and any effort to regulate online digital advertising which did not include the dominant channels of Alphabet (owners of YouTube, Google, etc), or Meta (owners of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc) would obviously fail.
Currently, young Manx residents are able to provisionally register to vote before their 16th birthday, with their ability to vote “activating” on the 16th birthday. This is useful for voters who turn 16 immediately before election day, but after voter registration closes. The same privilege should be given to other classes of voters (eg, migrants) who become eligible to vote before polling day, but after the closure of voter registrations.
MOVE VOTING DAY TO SATURDAY
Obviously, most people have commitments on a weekday. Around two-thirds of adults have work (on various schedules), other voters are at school, and so on. More people are more likely to be free and flexible to be able to vote if voting is held on a Saturday. It is possible that this might cost a little extra in staffing costs for elections to pay people to work on Saturdays. So be it. Pay a little extra, because the cost is small relative to the benefit of giving as many people as possible the opportunity to vote.
Historically, UK elections are held on Thursdays for various customary reasons. There doesn’t appear to be any clear reason that applies anyway – some people say that electing on a Thursday allows a Government to be sworn in and start work on the following Monday, but even this doesn’t apply to the Isle of Man where our process to choose a Chief Minister and a Ministry is different anyway.
There appears to be no strong or compelling reason to hold election day specifically on a Thursday, and low voter turnout suggests that this might be inconvenient for many voters who are juggling work, family and other commitments. Less people have work commitments on Saturdays. Thus, it makes sense to hold elections on Saturdays, so that more people can vote more easily.
Other jurisdictions allow voters to vote in-person ahead of polling day. This is helpful for voters who cannot attend on polling day. We should introduce this to the Isle of Man. This should include a polling station (for all constituencies) at the airport and sea terminal, so that people leaving the island in the week(s) preceding polling day can easily cast their vote prior to departure.
The postal voting form is a mess, and requires voters:-to post two forms (one to request a ballot, and one with the actual ballot)-to sign various forms various numbers of times (even the postal ballot application form requires two signatures itself!)-to complete convoluted and administratively complicated folding, signing and sealing of ballot papers in various envelopes.
This should be substantially reformed and simplified.
ALLOW VOTING AT ANY POLLING STATION
Some people may mistakenly go to the wrong polling station. Some people may prefer to go to a different polling station. We should cater to the convenience of voters.
Many nations allow voters to cast votes throughout the nation and throughout the world. Shortly after I arrived in the Isle of Man, I was able to vote in an Australian national election in London. Why do we force a Manx voter to go to just one arbitrarily selected location in the first place? The voting system should be designed to serve the voter, not to command the voter. We should allow voters to vote at any polling booth in the Isle of Man like other Western nations are able to do. I am confident that the government officials have the capability to overcome the administrative challenges that this presents.
The downside is that it might take a few extra minutes to transport the ballot papers to be counted. So be it. Finding out the result within a few minutes of the close of polling is not as important as giving as many people as possible the opportunity to vote – especially in the Isle of Man where a new Government is not constituted for some time anyway.
I am happy to discuss any of these issues in further detail. Feel free to contact me anytime if you wish to do so.